Photo Credit: Yisrael Katz Twitter
Israeli Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz (left) meets with Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa at the U.S. State Department’s Ministerial Meeting on Religious Freedom on July 18, 2019

{Originally posted to the JCPA website}

According to senior diplomatic sources in Jerusalem, Israel is trying to advance a non-aggression agreement with four Arab countries that do not currently have diplomatic relations with Israel. These countries are Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Morocco.


This agreement would be a stepping-stone toward full normalization between Israel and these four countries, which are already conducting ties behind the scenes.

The agreement includes maintaining friendly ties between Israel and these Arab countries based on UN treaties and international law and the adoption of steps required to prevent hostile actions, such as the threat of war or terror activities, violence or incitement between both sides.

The agreement prohibits the signatories from joining or assisting alliances or organizations with a third party with a military nature.

The United States is trying to help Israel with this process. American sources state that Victoria Coates, Deputy Adviser for National Security at the White House, met with the ambassadors of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, and Morocco in Washington. She explained to them the new Israeli initiative and asked for their response. The ambassadors told her that they would convey the message to the political leadership in their countries, and they would respond as soon as possible.

None of the four countries mentioned above denied the media reports on this issue.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz initiated the process in coordination with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in September 2019, when Minister Katz met with Oman Foreign Minister Yusuf Bin Alawi and Anwar Karkash, Foreign Minister of United Arab Emirates, and raised the initiative with them.

An Israeli delegation, comprised of representatives from the foreign ministry, the National Security Council, the defense ministry, and the justice ministry, set off for Washington for talks to try to advance the initiative and achieve a non-aggression agreement between Israel and the Arab countries.

President Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century” is currently in the deep freeze because of the political situation in Israel. Currently, Israel has a transitional government, and it may well need to conduct a third round of elections. However, foreign policy does not exist in a vacuum, and Foreign Minister Katz is still attempting to advance his initiative.

Everything connected to Israel’s relations with the Gulf States has a “window of opportunity” right now and shared interests while Iran continues to pose a danger, as seen recently by the Iranian attack on Saudi oil installations on September 14, 2019.

Israel is not concealing its efforts to achieve normalization with Arab countries. Prime Minister Netanyahu announced in November 2019 that Israel conducts ties with at least six Arab countries. On December 1,, 2019, the foreign ministry issued an official announcement that a delegation would pay an official visit to Dubai to arrange Israel’s participation in the “Expo 2020” international exhibition.

An additional path to normalization with the Gulf States is via discussions on security and freedom of transit in the Persian/Arabian Gulf.

Arab sources report that Saudi Arabia is supporting Bahrain on the diplomatic and media fronts regarding this issue. On October 21, 2019, Bahrain held a committee meeting on the issue of freedom of transit in the Gulf, attended by an Israeli delegation.

This committee meeting took place following the “Warsaw Committee to Promote Peace and Security in the Middle East” in February 2019, which was led by the United States and attended by 60 countries, including Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, and Oman. The meetings’ agenda was listed as “terrorism and extremism, missile development and proliferation, maritime trade and security, and threats posed by proxy groups across the region.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu (left) at the Warsaw Conference on Peace and Security in the Middle East, sitting next to Yemen’s Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani.

Anger in Palestinian Authority

The Palestinian Authority is very angry about Gulf States’ policy of establishing relations with Israel before a permanent settlement has been reached between Israel and the Palestinians.  PA sources claim that this is a violation of decisions reached by the Arab Summit and the Arab League.

The Gulf States, which fear Iran and want closer ties with the United States and Israel, are ignoring Palestinian anger and are slowly moving toward normalization with Israel without giving it an official or public stamp so as not to anger the Palestinians further.

Senior PA sources state that the Gulf States should open their eyes after the attacks on the Saudi oil installations and understand that no good will come from the Trump administration after it failed to protect Saudi Arabia from Iran.

According to them, the United States did not protect the Arab regimes from the “Arab Spring” either, which is why, for example, President Hosni Mubarak’s government fell in Egypt.

Yet, the Gulf States do not accept the Palestinian claims; their fear of Iran is overriding. They believe Trump’s hands are tied by his desire to run in the next presidential elections. Some of them believe that if he wins the elections, he will change his stance over protecting them from Iran.

At the same time, secret and public visits continue between Israeli and Arab representatives. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Oman in October 2018, and Foreign Minister Katz visited the United Arab Emirates in June 2019.

According to reports in some Arab media outlets that have not been confirmed, Prime Minister Netanyahu met secretly with Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman.

Similarly, some Gulf States have hosted Israeli sports teams and even played the Hatikva anthem when Israel’s teams won.

Israel’s attempt to advance a non-aggression agreement with four Arab countries is significant. This message should filter through to the Arab world and to the Palestinians who seek to block the normalization of relations with Israel.

Israeli policy to break the linkage presented by the Palestinians of normalizing relations with Israel only after reaching a diplomatic agreement is correct. The Palestinian problem no longer leads the Arab countries’ list of priorities. The Iranian danger has overtaken it, and in any case, the Palestinian arena is divided between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, where Palestinian leadership is unable to reach a national agreement that would allow serious negotiations with Israel, and where the results would be binding upon all the Palestinians.

The moderate Arab countries are following Israel’s offensive policy to attack Iranian entrenchment in Syria and the military attacks ascribed to Israel against Iranian targets. There is no doubt that this affects their relationship with Israel, seeing it as a critical regional force in the Middle East that does not fear to confront Iran. It is worthwhile for them to ally with Israel even in secret and to coordinate efforts to halt Iranian influence.

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Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as Director General and Chief Editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.